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Published: Friday, 3/9/2012

COMMENTARY

Light at the end of the projector

BY KIRK BAIRD
CULTURE SHOCK

Today is cause for celebration for those filmmakers whose projects languish in development hell.

John Carter, a poster child for on-again, off-again movies, arrives in theaters.

It's been a bumpy road from book to film for the 100-year-old space fantasy.

A movie adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars pulp novels was first floated in the 1930s and has been resurrected several times in the decades since. At various times Hollywood names such as Ray Harryhausen, John McTiernan, Tom Cruise, Robert Rodriguez, along with Ain't it Cool's Harry Knowles have been attached to the John Carter production in myriad ways, but bowed out. Many realized then-current technology wasn't capable of bringing credible life to the story of a Civil War veteran who becomes a legendary hero on Mars.

It took director Andrew Stanton (Pixar's Finding Nemo, WALL-E), Walt Disney Pictures, and modern CGI to finally break through.

Another perennially stalled projected, World War Z, will see the light of cinemas in December. Brad Pitt, who stars as a U.N. agent in a world overrun by zombies, is producing the movie. Star power is undeniably persuasive in convincing a studio to green light a film -- especially one with a production budget of $125 million, which is larger than many small towns' general funds.

The Farrelly Brothers have been trying to make a Three Stooges film for years -- at one point Sean Penn was set to star as Larry -- and finally succeeded. Their film opens April 13.

Mad Max 4: Fury Road is another film making a comeback after director George Miller spent 25 years trying to make a new installment in the apocalyptic franchise. The 56-year-old Mel Gibson is out as Max with Tom Hardy cast in his place. Oscar winner Charlize Theron will costar. Look for the film, which starts filming in a few weeks, in 2014.

Also in the "It's FINALLY going to happen!" category is the recently announced Arrested Development movie. Fans of the tragically under-watched Fox sitcom have been bemoaning its fate since its 2006 cancellation. There have been rumors -- always the rumors -- of a resurrected TV show or movie since. And now we're getting both, says Mitch Hurwitz, who created the show and scripted many of its best episodes. Netflix will run a mini-season of nine new Arrested Development episodes next year that gets viewers up to date with the hysterically dysfunctional Bluth clan, and a subsequent feature film will continue their story.

Those are a few of the survivors; films that managed to escape studio purgatory. There are many more film projects that haven't: Halo, Ghostbusters 3, Sandman, another Peewee Herman movie, among others.

The cause celèbre among cursed films, however, is Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Gilliam, the brilliant filmmaker of such unique visions as Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 12 Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, first hatched the idea of a Don Quixote film in 1991. As the years passed and the production troubles mounted, the movie became an obsession.

"This has been bugging me for a long time. Quixote has been dogging me," Gilliam said in the 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha, which chronicled the filmmaker's failed attempt at making the movie of his dreams. "I've been fantasizing this for a very long time. I've made the film in my head ... it's been laid out many, many times."

The heartbreaking documentary is a 90-minute education in how movies get made ... or not. And for Gilliam fans, Lost in La Mancha is also a painful reminder of what could have been, the film that got away.

Or did it?

Recently, Gilliam's longtime collaborator Tony Grisoni teased in an interview that The Man Who Killed Don Quixote may be back on track. Gilliam even created a new logo for the project. Can't have a film production without a logo, right?

And just like that, I'm optimistic that he will finally be able to share his cinematic obsession with audiences.

As baseball fans are fond of saying this time of year, hope springs eternal.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734. Follow him on Twitter: @bladepopculture.



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